Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Bill Stewart and Larry Grenadier. Photo: John Scofield Facebook page
Late-September sees the release of guitarist John Scofield's latest album a quartet affair called Past Present to be released on Impulse! Decked out with new material the quartet have been gigging recently including an appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival at the end of June. Sco and tenor sax titan Lo were students at Berklee and began to play on records together in the 1990s and were also part of the amusingly titled but very splendid ScoLoHoFo supergroup that released Oh! in 2003.
The girl with the dragon tattoo, sat along the wall to the left in front of the stage, seemed to be enjoying GoGo Penguin, at least that’s what her smiles seemed to suggest. But the sustained general applause later from the 90 or so of the Stieg Larsson generation who comfortably filled the Vortex last night for these trio newcomers told its own story.
The Manchester scene piano trio were in London for their debut at the club following their short spot on a live Radio 3 broadcast during the opening night of last month’s London Jazz Festival.
Out of nowhere the trio, pianist Chris Illingworth; bassist Grant Russell; and drummer Rob Turner, have arrived in a jazz scene awash with piano trios but yet with their debut Fanfares manage to stand out.
The build-up to the gig was provided by trumpeter Matthew Halsall, head honcho of their label Gondwana, donning his DJ hat and spinning some vinyl, mostly vintage Blue Note and Impulse label gems, including the late Pete La Roca’s version of ‘Lazy Afternoon’, from side two of the drummer turned lawyer’s 1965 masterwork, Basra.
GoGo Penguin, and they’re not ashamed to say it, revere Larsson’s fellow Swedes EST and first track ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flaring up as it does with “pop chords”, a lot of fluid build and here characterful playing from Illingworth, is a tribute to Svensson who continues to cast a giant shadow over the scene and increasingly as the years rush by since his early passing.
Illingworth speaking earlier over a beer in the newly refurbished downstairs bar talked about how he was “blown away” by seeing Svensson at a concert in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall and spoke with understandable admiration about posthumous release 301 and the wonders of ‘Three Falling Free, Part II’, one of the many highlights of an album that was recorded in Sydney at the time of Leucocyte, the album issued just after Esbjörn tragically died in 2008.
Bassist Russell did all the talking after the band had run through a good sprinkling of songs from Fanfares and he demonstrated a certain charm in the way he spoke to the audience, self-effacing, a bit rambling, but likeable.
The pick of the live set for me was the title track, which has a grandeur the title hints at but plenty of improvising hedged around the pretty New Melodic themes. Turner has a good drum ’n’ bass feel driving the others on (he plays a bit like Magnus Oström but also heading over towards Richard Spaven’s sound a bit, so it could go clubby). I really enjoyed Russell’s playing. Is he the new Jasper Høiby? Well let’s see. He’s nimble, has great ideas, and has a ‘fatness’ that’s that bit different, full and defined but never lumpen or dull.
The GoGos travel with a soundman, which shows how switched on they are and each of the players responded on this sonic level playing field. The encore was Massive Attack’s Les McCann-sampling ‘Teardrop’ (“we’ve ran out of our own songs,” Russell quipped), a tune the girl with the dragon tattoo, and the rest of us, warmed to instinctively.
Live wires: GoGo Penguin, top. From left to right: Chris Illingworth, Rob Turner, and Grant Russell. Above: cover of Basra, and the Vortex sound box, band eye view. (First published in 2012.)
Festival tents at the Marciac festival in France
The jazz festival above all explodes the whole notion that jazz is a big city music and underlines what a global music jazz is. That’s despite some of the best festivals taking place in big cities. If you can hold a festival in the field of a tiny village in the most remote of locations, and still attract huge crowds for a few days each year, then who says the music is urban? Its “big city" complexion is certainly not a condition for the music’s survival, at the very least but when the festivals pack up for another year what’s left beside the memories?
Almost in reproach like a spurned lover the jazz club standing there on a city street isn’t going away around festival time. And day-to-day, year in, year out, the club takes on a much greater significance as a home for the music than a festival can ever achieve. It’s an incubator for new talent, somewhere to go to hear the music, somewhere that really cares. The music grows in clubs while festivals celebrate that growth annually although the best festivals provide an experience no club can aspire to. The only other main alternative to club or festival is the concert hall experience, and as many gig-going veterans will tell you hearing jazz in a concert hall is at the very bottom of the list in terms of venue options even if it is the most comfortable and to its supporters the most civilised.
Festivals, even though the best of them have a unique ambience, can never replace the feeling of being in a great jazz club. They don’t have the bricks and mortar sense; that feeling of “jazz as a way of life” the solidity a club has on a street battered by the rain, bleached by the sun, a protective haven in the mess of urban street life to the beleagured chain stores or the corner shops.
Maybe jazz festivals are more about partying now, a “lost weekend”, or an “all you can eat” buffet to graze on as much of the international scene as time and good planning can muster. You may never hear jazz again live until the festival same time next year if you get your fill at a mega festival. The concept allows for musical bingeing; and it’s a tempting one. Twenty trips out late at night on a whim to hear 20 bands on separate nights at clubs, or according to one festival model 20 bands over four nights in a location where all the facilities are laid on is a real alternative for any but the most committed fans.
It’s more realistic in a way that jazz can no longer be seen just as a big city music. In the heart of the city the local jazz club struggles, and owners fight to keep their clubs going. So festivals have contributed to this shift in perceptions, but also the sheer ubiquity of jazz in a digital music age has made the notion of location less of a defining factor and within that the festival experience has a role. This pluralism involved in looking at the experiencing of a music in a different way is a strength, not a weakness.